Musical instrument making. Violins, violas or cellos – starting or finishing instruments with Geoff Bowers

Musical instrument making

Ref: S5D12186

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About this course

Musical instrument making – starting or continuing projects
An exciting opportunity to start making a new instrument in preparation to join our nine-day course or to continue one you have already begun. If starting a new instrument or new to these courses, please contact us before booking. Instruments should be selected with advice from the tutor. Also see information relating to the nine-day courses.

Course Description

This course is supplementary to the nine-day Musical Instrument Making course. It will be led by Geoff Bowers.

It aims to assist:

1. Those preparing to make a new instrument on the nine-day course

2. Those continuing or at the finishing (fitting up) stage of an instrument made on a previous nine-day course at West Dean.

Teaching is generally on a one-to-one basis, catering for your individual needs and dictated by ability, previous experience and knowledge. There will be group demonstrations where appropriate. As the course takes place in the main workshop, adjacent to the other courses in this series, you will also gain knowledge by interaction with fellow students and other tutors. Those starting certain instruments have information provided by the tutors. Some instruments require attendance on several courses to complete, this may depend on your skill base and opportunity to continue work at home, we recommend you discuss this with your tutor prior to the course when they contact you. Health and safety is discussed with as an integral part of the course.

Work can include the following aspects:

1) Starting a violin, viola or cello

This preparatory course will enable you to make and prepare all the necessary moulds, jigs and templates for the instrument you are making on the nine-day course. Also, if time, you may prepare the timber for the instrument and look at the plans you will be working from. The tutor can provide the materials for the course, if arranged in advance with him, and the cost of these must be paid to him before you leave.

2) Finishing your instrument

The course will focus around general discussion and demonstrations of varnishing instruments and final polishing. Fitting bridges, pegs and nuts, setting up the action of the strings and setting the sound-post will also be covered.

Please note: Humidity levels in the workshop are variable to dry; whilst the College has addressed this, some factors are beyond our control and instruments are brought at your own risk.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials

What students need to bring

  • The instrument you wish to complete
  • Any hand tools you may have or think you may need (marked with your name)
  • Appropriate workshop clothes and stout covered footwear (not sandals) are essential in this workshop
  • As soon as you receive confirmation of your place, please tell us which instrument you wish to work on by emailing:
  • If you are new to the course, please give details of your past experience in instrument making and woodworking. We will pass this information to the tutor, who will contact you to discuss this and the materials required, and will advise you of the cost of these. Alternatively, if you are bringing a part-made instrument, please bring materials and information relating to this or inform the tutor what you need.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • Please refer to relevant list for 1) or 2)
  • 1) Materials/equipment for starting a violin, viola or cello
  • The following are usually available from the Shop:
  • Needle files
  • 1 set square
  • Pair of dividers
  • Tracing paper
  • Pencils
  • These items will be available at the College for students' use:
  • Spoke-shave
  • File (large half round) and any other files and rasps that you have
  • Fret saw and blades
  • Scraper
  • G-clamp
  • Please bring any of the above, if you already have them.
  • 2) Materials/equipment for finishing your instrument
  • The following are usually available from the Shop:
  • Needle files – round tapering, half round and flat
  • 1/2 round file
  • Scalpel knife and blades
  • Fine mm ruler
  • Pair of dividers
  • Jeweller’s piercing saw
  • Artist’s brushes – fine nylon flat 1" and 1/2"
  • Available from tutor:
  • All materials purchased for your instrument on your behalf.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

Courses of interest

Further study

If your goal is to set-up an instrument making workshop or to work in the trade, our Foundation Degree in Musical Instruments is internationally respected for the high-level craftmanship skills students attain. It encompasses the whole field of stringed musical instruments. Find out more

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